Note from VQ Volunteer Strategies: For four days straight, I have drafted this blog – yet, with each day’s news, I’ve rewritten it to cover the latest developments. The reality is this: This is a swiftly changing situation and recommendations can quickly become obsolete. Nevertheless, we would like to share resources and considerations that are valid today and recommend that everyone continue to seek up to date information and share our collective expertise to work together to respond proactively and responsibly. With that in mind, here are our thoughts as of Thursday morning, March 12, 2020.
With the spread of COVID-19 across the world including North America (where most of our readers live and work), the recent declaration by the World Health Organization that the outbreak is a world pandemic, and mass cancellations and restrictions sweeping the globe, your organization is likely already experiencing disruptions to your normal way of doing business and will, undoubtedly, experience far more in the weeks to come.
For some organizations, this may mean a drop in services, events, or attendance (e.g., museums or theaters or sports organizations may have fewer or smaller programs), while many – especially in the human services arena – will likely see an increased demand for services (e.g., senior companion services, food pantries, and government agencies). Regardless, the volunteers who are already engaged with your organization remain a vital resource as you navigate these unusual circumstances and, as such, deserve some thoughtful strategizing around how to leverage their skills while also protecting them physically, mentally, and emotionally.
We would like to offer these considerations, provide resources to explore, and invite you to weigh in and share your best practices with each other as well. This list is not exhaustive but rather is designed the move our conversations forward.
- Prioritize the health and safety of your organization’s staff, volunteers, constituents, and community. Set up additional washing stations, encourage social distancing, and set up systems for staff – and volunteers – to work remotely where possible to reduce the spread of disease. Visit the CDC for tips on how to prevent the spread of the virus. Additional information designed specifically for faith-based organizations is also available. Be sure to connect with your state and local public health agencies.
- Communicate strategically with volunteers. Communicate with volunteers to keep them up to date, ensure they understand their options, and allay any rumors, while also providing guidance for their safety and that of others. The Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration has shared tips for communications plus more.
- Determine which volunteer positions are crucial to your current state of operations and be prepared to either pare back to only those necessary in order to allow volunteers to stay home to help slow the spread of the virus or support volunteers in working remotely wherever possible in the same ways that staff are increasingly being encouraged to work remotely. You can extend your existing remote work policies to volunteers – or develop an all-encompassing policy now. Consider leveraging technology to facilitate remote work for both staff and volunteers.
- Adjust volunteer and staff trainings by postponing trainings or leveraging online and other virtual training options. Offering opportunities for online convenings is not only a great way to keep volunteers’ skills up, even if they take a hiatus from active volunteering to protect themselves and others, but it is also a way to connect and engage volunteers which can be vital to overcoming the potential isolation of “social distancing.” Remember, moving a planned curriculum from in-person to online is not always a simple transition. Teaching online is inherently different from face-to-face. VQ Volunteer Strategies will share more on this topic in weeks to come. For now, here are some helpful resources:
- While this resource from The Chronicle of Higher Education is geared primarily for college professors who are now required to move to online teaching, it includes many useful links to resources about technologies and more. (If the link doesn’t work, paste this directly into your browser: https://www.chronicle.com/article/Preparing-for-Emergency-Online/248230?cid=wcontentlist_hp_latest)
- Remember that not all volunteers have access to internet so be sure to consider your online expectations in light of your organization’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) goals as well. This document, designed for transitioning a class on theater to online teaching does include some helpful questions to ask of volunteers to assess their access to online resources (e.g., Do you have a computer/tablet at home? Do you have access to Wi-Fi? Do you have a quiet room where you can work? Do you have daily access to a webcam or microphone? Are you familiar with group chats/lecture services like Zoom or Echo? Read the document for more.)
- Ensure that Volunteer Engagement is part of your organization’s overall response plan and Continuity of Operations Plans now and in the future. Here are some general tips for all nonprofits with additional resources from the Chronicle of Philanthropy (If the link doesn’t open, paste this directly into your browser: https://www.philanthropy.com/article/Responding-to-the-Coronavirus/248231).
What other ideas and approaches are you adopting? Share them with us and with each other via social media. Together, we will carve a path through these uncharted waters and we will need the skills and strengths of the volunteer community to do so.